*This image is purely for illustration purposes, and I'm not suggesting that any/all of the products shown contain any or all of the chemicals below!
Parabens. Sulphates. Mineral Oil. We're constantly being told to avoid all manner of 'nasty' skincare ingredients, and I, for one, have bought right into it, my skincare collection now being almost entirely made up of natural and organic products. However, when it comes to makeup, giving such additions the swerve can pose much more of a challenge, so I thought it was about time we had a closer look at what exactly we are trying to avoid, and why we should (or shouldn't?) be doing so.
This is going to be a two part series, because despite what we are generally led to believe, natural skincare does have its pitfalls too, as I've recently discovered. But today it's all about those chemical critters, so read on for Part 1.
Parabens are a group of compounds used as preservatives, to prevent bacteria, fungus and other delights from taking hold and ruining whatever it is you've spent your hard-earned cash on.
Besides cosmetics, they are also found in pharmaceuticals, and even food products, so even the most vigilant among us would be hard pushed to eliminate them from their lifestyle completely.
So, what is it that's so terrible about parabens? Well, studies have shown that they are able to mimic the hormone oestrogen, which is already known to have links to female cancers such as ovarian and breast cancer. In fact, tests run on breast tumours have actually confirmed the presence of parabens. While there is no solid evidence that there is a link between the two, it has certainly made me think twice about what I'm putting on my face, and while I often think I'm doing well by leaving it out of my skincare, it scares me a little bit to think that I'm then plastering it on anyway in the form of foundation, blush and all kinds of other cosmetics.
Sulphates, again, are found in countless beauty products, the most common of those being shampoos and foaming cleansers. You know that lovely thick lather you get when you wash your hair? That's all down to Sodium Laureth Sulfate, and so is the foam from gel cleansers, which are often used by the oilier-skinned among us to achieve a squeaky-clean visage. Sulphates help water and oil to mix, enabling them to effectively lift dirt, oil and impurities and wash them away.
There is a common mis-conception that without bubbles, you're not getting the same deep clean. But actually, the addition of sulphates only means that you are stripping your skin of its natural oils and leaving it dry and dehydrated (hence the afore-mentioned squeaky-clean feeling). Now I know that some of you will be thinking that that's exactly what you want, but it's not - your skin does require a certain amount of the natural oils it produces, and if you take them away then it's only going to go into overdrive trying to replenish what it has lost.
The main concern with sulphates is the fact that they are quite strong irritants. If you get them in your eyes then you'll know about it! Those of you with sensitive skin are better off avoiding these where possible, and if you've got oily skin then why not try an oil cleanser if you haven't already? If you haven't already heard, they are extremely effective at removing grime and dirt from your pores, and contrary to the belief that they'll leave your skin even oilier, they are actually more likely to leave it feeling clean, plump and hydrated.
Mineral Oil is an inexpensive carrier oil, used to bulk out a large number of beauty products such as cleansers and serums. A by-product of the distilation of gasoline from crude oil (doesn't that sound appealing!? Mmm, I want to rub it all over my face....), it's clear, has no scent and won't spoil or go off.
Needless to say, it's a penny-pinching option for many of the big beauty brands out there who want to maximise their profits and minimise their costs.
So, what's the problem with mineral oil? Well, the skin has a pretty tough time trying to absorb it, resulting in a film being left over the skin which will then inevitably clog up pores, often resulting in breakouts. And as if that wasn't enough, when it is eventually absorbed, it passes through the liver and intestinal tract, mopping up any fat-soluble vitamins floating in its path and essentially robbing the body of much-needed nutrients. Lovely jubbly.
I don't know about you, but I'd never considered the direct impact of the products I was using on the outside of my body on the inner workings of it until recently, and frankly it's quite scary.
So, those are the three biggest baddies, or so we are told. Personally, I've always loved the idea of using natural ingredients on my skin rather than scary man-made chemicals, and the evidence is certainly enough to provide most of us with a push in the right direction. However, I will say that nowadays, it seems that pretty much everything has been linked to cancer or some other ailment in some form or other, so it's difficult to know where the truth really lies. Short of stopping breathing, it's impossible to completely avoid all the things we are being told to, and all we can do is inform ourselves and make the choices that we feel are right for us as individuals.
Next up, I'll be talking about some of the delicious-sounding natural ingredients often associated with skincare, and how they, too, can have a slightly unpleasant side.